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Why Does the Marine Corps Have Their Own Private Bison Herd?
The bison herd of Camp Pendleton is probably one of the military’s most fascinating and unique secrets – and that’s saying something for the military, who are well-renowned for their secret-keeping capabilities. So, why is there a herd of bison on an American military base? What could the military possibly use bison for, anyway?
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Why Is There a Camp Pendleton Bison Herd?
Between 1973 and 1979, the San Diego Zoo gave MCB Camp Pendleton what is perhaps one of the coolest gifts ever – 14 Plains Bison, a smaller subset of the American Bison. San Diego and the surrounding area, as one might imagine, were never home to giant herds of buffalo (though some fossils show records of a few bison species that were living in the area 100,000 years ago). So how’d they get to the zoo in the first place?
Something a lot of people fail to realize about zoos is that they’re responsible for the protection and care of many animals, a.k.a. conservation, which is why the San Diego Zoo had bison. They had been hunted to near extinction in the plains of Kansas. Zoos, of course, have a very limited amount of space for each species, and the San Diego Zoo ran out of real estate. They needed a place where bison herds could thrive, repopulate, and, most importantly, stay safe.
What better place than a military base? Not exactly everyone’s first thought.
Camp Pendleton, however, was the perfect option – within the base’s limits, there are 220 square miles of rolling hills and wide open space that’ve barely been impacted by humans. And, of course, no one can just waltz onto a military base, making this a prime spot for both the safety and comfort of the bison.
Camp Pendleton and Bison Conservation
Believe it or not, this military institution is responsible for much more than just war and defense efforts. Bison conservation is a huge part of their Integrated Natural Resources Management Plan.
Their main goal is to manage the bison population. From the time the base first got the 14 bison to 2015, the population exploded to 150 bison. In the plan, details are outlined on the installation’s goals of keeping the population managed. Their management will consist of practicing strategies to decrease any potential conflicts between bison and training activities.
Basically, everyone on base is in charge of reporting bison whereabouts should they roam into unsafe territory. This keeps the animals safe and military training missions uncompromised.
Other Camp Pendleton Conservation Missions
Bison aren’t the only threatened species that Camp Pendleton is tasked with looking after. They have a Threatened, Endangered, and Rare Species Program that’s charged with the management of species of concern under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). Here are some of the animals they look after on their base:
- Least Bell’s Vireo (bird)
- Southwestern Willow Flycatcher (bird)
- California Least Tern (bird)
- Western Snowy Plover (bird)
- Fairy Shrimp (crustacean)
- Arroyo Toad (reptile)
- Kangaroo Rat (rodent)
Are Bison Endangered?
No. Bison are not currently endangered. They are, however, listed as “Near Threatened,” as they still haven’t fully recovered from the excessive hunting in the 19th century.
Today, the biggest population of bison can be found in Yellowstone National Park, and the bison herd at Camp Pendleton is one of only two wild bison herds in the state of California (the other being on Catalina Island).
The Future of the Marine Corps Bison Herd
For now, the bison herd on base at Camp Pendleton seems to be thriving in their home. As the years go on, their population is expected to continue increasing. And who knows; “bison herding” may be the next military occupational specialty to look for!